Roy Florer looked over my shoulder a couple of weeks ago, sighed his farewell, and vanished.
Roy, you see, had vanished in a greater sense many years ago. The years when he allowed me to visit him at his rural home ended almost four decades ago. Roy took his World War I stories to a higher audience. I took up writing the stories of Roy, and the many others of many other generations. And those social moments of Bible verses and instant coffee ended. When I last said goodbye to Roy, he sat in that soft chair beneath a sprawling black-and-white photo of several hundred Roys, gathered on the steps of the nation's Capitol.
The lads were all set to go "over there" and fight "The War to End All Wars." They all seemed eager to do "Black Jack" Pershing's bidding. The confidence swelled from their shoulders and lifted their flat hat brims into a line as level as the Capitol steps.
Their faces were hard to see in that aging photo. That detail could not be captured in that era, at that distance. But Roy's face could be seen. Perhaps that was the one blessing of Roy's distinctive nose. And once you found the nose you could recognize the smile. Youth might control the market in energy, but they do not own enthusiasm. Roy's own enthusiasm never diminished.
Oh, that smile would weaken, maybe tremble, when he talked about his wife. But he would take notice of his son standing beside the archway beside the woodburning stove, and the confidence would return.
Roy remembered a time when global war was unknown, when success was not guaranteed. He had been to battle and back. But he preferred friendlier topics.
And there we sat Saturday after Saturday. I read Scriptures that I thought I understood, from a book that Roy almost had memorized.
The brown tar paper still covered that tiny house the last time I drove past. Much probably has changed in those intervening years, but I prefer to remember the brown house and the instant coffee.
I thought of Roy about two weeks ago, when I read of Frank Buckles. Buckles was the last living U.S. World War I veteran. He died at age 110 in West Virginia.
I doubt that he and Roy ever met in that vast theater. Who can know for sure?
So I wonder about that long black-and-white photo and all those young men. They were not the first to make that commitment, and they were not the last.
And I think of the individuals in that photo's throng, and I think of their youth. I think of my nephews in uniform. I think too much.
Somewhere Roy has stopped talking of war and is talking with his wife.
He is lost in a greater throng, of all nationalities and no enemies.
And that young man is still standing proud in the lower right corner of a photo that still graces a wall somewhere.
At least, I will remember it that way.
For the moment, I could use a cup of instant coffee.